Fantasy Football is finally back in full swing. If you are like me, you spent much of Sunday swiping through the scoreboard pages of your various teams and questioned why you didn’t start Jalen Hurts over Aaron Rodgers. Seriously, all the reigning MVP needed to do was not have the worst fantasy output of any starter in Week 1 and I would’ve won. I lost that matchup by 0.4 points.
But I digress, because whether you feel like you crushed your draft or really messed it up, you now have a second chance to build your fantasy team. Welcome to the waiver wire. Every year, there are a few great fantasy options that slip through the cracks and wind up going undrafted. Usually, the fantasy managers who scoop those handful of players up tend to be the ones that make deep playoff runs.
Don’t believe me? Alvin Kamara went undrafted in most formats back in 2017. He finished the year as RB3. Perhaps you rode James Robinson or Justin Jefferson to a championship last year after both started the year widely available on the waiver wire. The point is, your season is not over because you had a bad Week 1 or lost a couple players to injury.
A quick reminder of how I go about this column. I am looking at players who are available in at least 50 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues as a guide for who will be available. Of course you should pick up star players if they are somehow sitting on the waiver wire, but that won’t be the case for most people.
Going beyond simply looking for players to add to your roster, working the waiver wire requires a bit of strategy. Different leagues have different policies for how waiver claims are awarded. Some have the waiver order reset in reverse order of the standing after every week. Some move teams to the back of the queue after a successful waiver claim. Some have allotted budgets of real or fake money for managers to allocate on players throughout the season. It is important to check which set up your league has and know the best way to work within those parameters.
There is also no chance you will see me advocating for you to use a waiver claim on a defense or a kicker. That does not mean that you should not pick one up if let’s say you have the Panthers defense going up against the Saints this week, but don’t waste a valuable waiver claim on a position that likely will not offer you any long term value.
With all of that in mind, let’s dive into my top additions heading into Week 2. These are listed in no particular order, simply broken up by position.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, DEN It didn’t take long for Bridgewater to settle in. The former Panthers quarterback carved up the Giants defense for 264 yards and a pair of scores on his way to a QB14 finish. Those aren’t gaudy numbers, but solid nonetheless. On top of that, Bridgewater will face a Jaguars defense that gave up 291 yards and two scores to Tyrod Taylor in Week 1. Even without Jerry Jeudy, the Broncos still have plenty of talented receivers and backs to work with. It doesn’t hurt that Bridgewater can add a bit more value with his legs as well. He rushed for 19 yards this past week and could be in line for more as the season rolls on. I think he is a solid spot starter this week if you are in the market for one.
Mac Jones, QB, NE I am a lot less sure about this one. Mac Jones looked really good in his NFL debut, but he did not do much from a fantasy perspective. However, he plays a very young Jets defense in Week 2 on the heels of throwing the ball 39 times against the Dolphins. That bodes well for some increased fantasy success against a weaker opponent. Jones is going to be incredibly efficient and will likely avoid turnovers. If you are searching for a fantasy option with a decently high floor, he feels like someone worth a look this week.
Elijah Mitchell, RB, SF I’m ready to get burned again! I targeted Trey Sermon in a lot of my fantasy drafts this year under the assumption he would start if anything happened to Raheem Mostert. The latter has a lengthy injury history, so it felt pretty likely he would miss some time. Low and behold, Mostert is out of the season, but it is Elijah Mitchell who seems poised to take over the majority of the work in the backfield. He ran the ball 19 times for 104 yards and a touchdown in his NFL debut. The red flag? He did not have a single target in the passing game. Now, Sermon is likely to see some touches this week and Kyle Shanahan is notorious for rotating his running backs. JaMycal Hasty and eventually Jeff Wilson Jr. will definitely see some work. That being said, Mitchell absolutely should be rostered in every fantasy league. He will be my top waiver wire target this week.
Kenny Gainwell, RB, PHI He didn’t light it up or see anywhere near the same volume as Mitchell, but Gainwell had a solid NFL debut. The rookie out of Memphis had 11 touches for 43 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons. He seems well positioned for about 10-15 touches per game. Normally, I wouldn’t feel great about him facing the 49ers in Week 2, but San Francisco gave up the most fantasy points to opposing running backs in Week 1. This definitely has some risk reward potential, but if you are looking for someone to stash with upside, Gainwell is a good pick.
Mark Ingram, RB, HOU Dare I say it: Mark Ingram looks fantasy relevant again. The former Ravens running back ran the ball a staggering 26 times against the Jaguars. He only averaged 3.3 yards per carry, but if he is going to see that much volume this season, he will be worth tracking. The Texans travel to Cleveland in Week 2. That’s not a great fantasy matchup for Ingram, but he should have a relatively high floor if he is going to see that much usage. I wouldn’t drop anyone you really like for him, but Ingram could be a great injury replacement for Mostert, Rashaad Penny or others.
Sterling Shepard, WR, NYG We talked all offseason about the big additions to the Giants offense. They signed Kenny Golladay, drafted Kadarius Toney and brought in Kyle Rudolph. That was in addition to Evan Engram and Darius Slayton with Saquon Barkley finally back from injury. Turns out we forgot about Sterling Shepard. After a frustrating and injury-riddled 2020 season, the former Oklahoma receiver reasserted himself in New York’s offense with a seven-catch, 113-yard performance capped off by a touchdown. He scored the ninth most points of any fantasy receiver in Week 1. He might not be a weekly starter, but Shepard will definitely be a matchup-specific flex option.
K.J. Osborn, WR, MIN Not a name I was overly familiar with heading into Week 1, Osborn showed a lot of promise against Cincinnati. He caught seven of his nine targets for 76 yards. I’m not ready to call him a breakout player yet, but with Minnesota lacking depth at tight end and struggling to run the ball, Osborn could be involved a bit more in the offense than we expected. It is tough for me to start him at this point, especially facing a Cardinals defense that just shut down the Titans, but he might be worth stashing on your bench if you have room.
Tim Patrick, WR, DEN Injuries are a part of football. Every year players go down and that opens up new opportunities in fantasy. Unfortunately, Jerry Jeudy will miss some time with a high-ankle sprain. That opens the door for Tim Patrick to be fantasy relevant again. He only saw four targets in Week 1, but he turned them into four catches for 39 yards and a touchdown. I think he will see a few more throws his way with Jeudy out. Plus, he faces an abysmal Jaguars secondary in Week 2. Patrick feels like a speculative flex play or WR3 option in PPR formats. If you are in non-PPR leagues, K.J. Hamler is definitely worth a look.
Nelson Agholor, WR, NE I’m still a little skeptical of Agholor, but he had a solid debut for the Patriots. He caught five of his seven targets for 72 yards and a score. There is a good chance he finishes the year as New England’s top receiver. On top of that, he faces a Jets secondary that struggled to contain the big play and is overall very unproven. Agholor is worth a look as a flex option in Week 2.
Jared Cook, TE, LAC A change of scenery seems to have worked well for the veteran Cook, at least through one week. He caught five passes for 56 yards in his debut with the Chargers. That was against a talented Washington defense as well. Cook will face a Cowboys defense that gave up eight catches for 90 yards and two touchdowns to Rob Gronkowski in Week 1. I don’t think you should expect that type of production out of Cook, but he is definitely a streaming option this week and has the potential to be a regular starter in your lineup if you need a tight end.
We got our first taste of NFL regular season football and it was everything we hoped for and more. Dak almost powered Dallas past Tampa. Kansas City and Cleveland played in an instant classic. New Orleans stunned the reigning MVP. Vegas capped the weekend with a wild overtime win over Baltimore. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Teams don’t win championships in September. These rankings will likely change a lot in the early weeks as teams find their identity and settle into a new season. Keep in mind that the Browns opened 2020 with a 38-6 loss only to reach the playoffs, the Jaguars stunned the Colts before losing 15 straight and the Buccaneers stumbled against the Saints before going on to win the Super Bowl.
After one week though, this is how I think the NFL stacks up.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: 1-0(Last Week: 1) Won 33-29 vs. Cleveland Seeing the Chiefs down 15-3 midway through the second quarter might have offered shades of their Super Bowl loss. Luckily for Kansas City, Baker Mayfield is not Tom Brady. Patrick Mahomes might just challenge the latter for being the greatest of all time when it is all said and done. It would be easy to say he engineered a fourth-quarter comeback, but he had plenty of help. Tyreek Hill adjusted to a classic Mahomes rocket and coasted to the end zone for a one-play scoring drive. Kansas City dragged down Cleveland’s punter after he dropped the snap to set up a short field for the go-ahead score. Then, the defense sealed it with an interception. Andy Reid will surely hope to avoid such a slow start next week, but this is a good reminder that a comeback is rarely out of the question when it comes to the Chiefs.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 1-0(Last Week: 2) Won 31-29 vs. Dallas Bucs fans almost had their Super Bowl celebrations spoiled by the Cowboys. Then again, was the game really ever in doubt when Tom Brady got the ball back with about 90 seconds on the clock? It was a lot less comfortable of a win than many expected, but a win nonetheless. The biggest concern for Tampa Bay has to be the defense, which struggled to slow down Dak Prescott all game long. There were a few moments of brilliance, but overall, it was a bit of a slow start. Definitely nothing to panic about, but there is clearly room for improvement.
3. Los Angeles Rams: 1-0(Last Week: 7) Won 34-14 vs. Chicago Los Angeles passed its first test with flying colors and looks the part of a Super Bowl contender. Matt Stafford looked sharp in his new offense and his full complement of weapons showed up. He aired it out for 321 yards and three touchdowns while completing 20-of-26 passes. Defensively, the Rams didn’t generate as much pressure as you might have expected. The secondary more than made up for it though with some smothering coverage. This was a good start, but the pressure is still on. The entire NFC West won in Week 1, so the Rams still have plenty of work to do.
4. New Orleans Saints:1-0(Last Week: 14) Won 38-3 vs. Green Bay A lot will be made about Jameis Winston throwing five touchdowns on just 20 passes. I was more impressed by the Saints defense though. The Packers averaged a league-best 31.8 points per game in 2020 along with the fifth-most yards per contest. New Orleans held Green Bay out of the end zone and surrendered the fewest yards of any defense in Week 1. After losing Sheldon Rankins, Trey Hendrickson and Janoris Jenkins this was a much better showing than I would’ve expected. Newly-acquired Bradley Roby wasn’t even on the field yet. The Saints mean business and need to be taken seriously.
5. Seattle Seahawks:1-0(Last Week: 10) Won 28-16 at Indianapolis Russ is cooking once again and this time it seems like the defense decided to show up for the first half of the year, too. Seattle outplayed Indianapolis on both sides of the ball and picked up a solid road to win to open its season. Russell Wilson looked unstoppable, amassing 254 yards passing and four touchdowns on just 23 throws. The Seahawks controlled the line of scrimmage, running the ball effectively on offense and stymieing the Colts’ ground game on defense. Seattle gets another dose of the AFC South with a visit from Tennessee on the horizon.
6. Cleveland Browns 0-1(Last Week: 6) Lost 33-29 at Kansas City It is hard to know which side of this loss to focus on. On one hand, the Browns led 22-10 at halftime and held a nine-point lead with 10:24 left in the fourth quarter. On the other, they collapsed in the final minutes and Baker Mayfield threw a bad interception to end Cleveland’s comeback bid. There is a lot to like about how they played, but the Browns are going to need to win these games in order to really earn contender status.
7. Arizona Cardinals: 1-0(Last Week: 19) Won 38-13 at Tennessee Woah! If it weren’t for the Saints beating the brakes off the Packers, I think we would all be talking about how good the Cardinals looked in demolishing the Titans. Kyler Murray seems fully healthy and back to the MVP form he flashed before suffering an ankle injury in 2020. Chandler Jones seems back to his old self as well with a monster five-sack performance, tied for the most in a single game in franchise history. Keep in mind that he tallied 19 sacks and eight forced fumbles in 2019 before missing most of 2020 due to injury. This is a very impressive start for Arizona. Kliff Kingsbury needs to maintain that over a full season though. The Cards started 6-3 last year before limping to a 8-8 finish.
8. San Francisco 49ers:1-0(Last Week: 9) Won 41-33 at Detroit This went from a convincing blowout to a questionable victory very quickly. A costly fumble by Deebo Samuel nearly cost the 49ers the lead in the fourth quarter, but the defense did just enough to preserve the victory. After going up 38-10, Detroit outscored San Francisco 23-3 the rest of the way. That is a red flag for Kyle Shanahan. On the bright side, Elijah Mitchell looked great in his debut. Samuel dazzled on a 79-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Dre Greenlaw got the defense involved in the scoring as well with a pick six. There was a lot to like, but San Francisco can not afford to take its foot off the gas like that in the future.
9. Pittsburgh Steelers:1-0(Last Week: 16) Won 23-16 at Buffalo Maybe the Steelers aren’t as overmatched as we all thought. Actually, this looked exactly like what I think we all expected Pittsburgh to be. The defense played lights out while the offensive line looked abysmal. It proved to be the special teams, which blocked a punt and recovered it for a touchdown, that won the game. Ben Roethlisberger posted an ugly 28.5 QBR and Najee Harris averaged 2.8 yards per carry. That is not usually a winning formula. Mike Tomlin needs to find a way to take at least some pressure off his defense as the season rolls on.
10. Buffalo Bills: 0-1(Last Week: 3) Lost 23-16 vs. Pittsburgh It might be time to cool the Super Bowl hype in Buffalo. After lighting up the NFL in 2020, Josh Allen seemed to show some regression in his 2021 season opener. Perhaps that was just a product of playing a talented Steelers defense. He struggled against Pittsburgh in 2020 as well, but not quite as badly as he did on Sunday. Devin Singletary looked effective running the ball, but lost the handle twice. He was lucky neither resulted in a turnover. Zack Moss was a healthy scratch. Defensively, Buffalo looked really good, but it was not enough to carry the offense and special teams to a win. Miami is up next.
11. Baltimore Ravens: 0-1(Last Week: 5) Lost 33-27 at Las Vegas Blowing a 14-point lead is inexcusable, especially with an offense as capable of controlling the clock as the Ravens’ offense can. Lamar Jackson was phenomenal when he wasn’t fumbling the ball. Jackson coughed it up three times, with two of those times resulting in turnovers. The last one cost Baltimore the game in overtime. This also was not the greatest start for defensively as they allowed Las Vegas to climb back into the game. There are still some positives to take away from the performance, but Jim Harbaugh has to be disappointed in how his team closed the game.
12. Miami Dolphins:1-0(Last Week: 11) Won 17-16 at New England Miami picks up an all important road win in the division and leads the AFC East through one week. Tua Tagovailoa looked decent, showing some areas of growth, but was also clearly outplayed by Mac Jones. Brian Flores also made the curious decision to only give Myles Gaskin nine carries despite him averaging 5.4 yards per carry. The rest of the team averaged 1.8 yards per attempt on 14 rushes. Flores will also need to figure out what to do about his run defense. A pair of fumble recoveries shifted the focus away from the fact that Damien Harris ran the ball down the team’s throat. A win is great, but there are a few things the Dolphins need to work on heading into Week 2 against the Bills.
13. Green Bay Packers: 0-1(Last Week: 4) Lost 38-3 at New Orleans What in the world just happened? The Packers entered Sunday with a 26-6 record in the regular season under Matt LaFleur and had the reigning MVP coming off back-to-back NFC Championship Games. The Saints cared about absolutely none of that. Aaron Rodgers played one of the worst games of his career and the defense got carved up by Jameis Winston, who threw five touchdowns on just 20 attempts. Worst still, the offensive line does not look great. The running game accounted for 2.9 yards per carry and gave up seven quarterback hits. LaFleur has a ton to figure out and it already seems like the tension between him and Rodgers is growing.
14. Los Angeles Chargers:1-0 (Last Week: 15) Won 20-16 at Washington Brandon Staley got his head coaching career off to a winning start. This was not an easy opening matchup either, traveling across the country to play one of the best defenses in the league. It was far from perfect as L.A. managed just 3.1 yards per carry and committed a pair of turnovers. However, we finally got a glimpse of how good this defense could be with Derwin James and Kenneth Murray both healthy. This seems like an exciting team to watch this year. A big game versus Dallas awaits.
15. Las Vegas Raiders: 1-0 (Last Week: 21) Won 33-27 vs. Baltimore What a comeback and what a finish! It was a roller coaster, but the Raiders pulled off a seemingly improbable win in overtime. Derek Carr looked incredible down the stretch after a rocky start against a solid Ravens defense. It was far from perfect and I still have some questions about the defense. Give them credit for forcing a pair of crucial turnovers to turn the tide, but the Ravens had no problem moving the ball against them. This definitely takes some heat off both Carr and Jon Gruden, but the road only gets tougher with a trip to face a stifling Steelers defense next week.
16. Tennessee Titans:0-1(Last Week: 8) Lost 38-13 vs. Arizona Maybe the Titans will still rebound to win the AFC South, but this was a very inauspicious start. Tennessee got blown out in its own building and looked overmatched on both sides of the ball. The defense had no answer for Kyler Murray, who accounted for five total touchdowns. Meanwhile, Ryan Tannehill will be having nightmares about Chandler Jones for a while after the Cardinals edge rusher sacked him five times on Sunday. What might be the most concerning part of all is that the Titans could not run the ball. Derrick Henry finished with just 58 yards on just 3.4 yards per carry. Mike Vrabel has a lot to figure out before his side heads to Seattle this week.
17. Dallas Cowboys: 0-1(Last Week: 18) Lost 31-29 at Tampa Bay It was a loss, and that won’t help them at the end of the season, but it was a strong start by the Cowboys. Dak Prescott looked great in his return from injury. The defense wasn’t amazing, but looked much better than a year ago. If Dallas can establish the run a bit more in Week 2, we could see this team start to look like a true playoff contender. That won’t be the easiest task with the Cowboys headed to L.A. to face the Chargers. It’s not a must-win by any means, but it feels like a big litmus test for Mike McCarthy’s group.
18. Indianapolis Colts:0-1(Last Week: 12) Lost 28-16 vs. Seattle Carson Wentz was set for a fresh start in Indianapolis, reunited with his former offensive coordinator behind one of the better offensive lines in the league with a reliable running game. Through one week, it looks like he might have left most of that behind in Philadelphia. Wentz was sacked three times and hit 10 times. The running game only managed 3.8 yards per carry. There is cause for concern on the defense as well. Russell Wilson usually comes out cooking, but to surrender four touchdowns through the air is not a good sign for the secondary. Things don’t get much easier with the Rams coming to visit in Week 2.
19. New England Patriots: 0-1(Last Week: 13 Lost 17-16 vs. Miami The Patriots were unlucky not to beat the Dolphins, but they have no one to blame but themselves. New England fumbled the ball four times, losing two of them. That proved to be the difference in a defensive slugfest. Mac Jones looked pretty sharp though and the running game showed promise. There are clearly going to be some growing pains for Bill Belichick, but I can promise you he will not let fumbles continue to happen. There is a good chance we see some reduced roles for Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris after coughing it up. Jones will face off with fellow rookie Zach Wilson in Week 2.
20. Washington:0-1(Last Week: 17) Lost 20-16 vs. Los Angeles Losing to the Chargers stings, but losing Ryan Fitzpatrick for six to eight weeks hurts much worse. Much of the offseason optimism that Washington could repeat in the NFC East centered on the improved quarterback play that Fitzmagic could bring. Taylor Heinickie looked fine in relief, but this is a bit of a change up for Washington. Also, let’s not lose focus on this defense. Thought of as one of the best in the league, Washington sacked Justin Herbert just twice for a loss of three yards. Not quite as impactful as you would’ve expected from that uber talented front seven. Washington has a short week before playing a divisional game against the Giants.
21. Denver Broncos: 1-0(Last Week: 23) Won 27-13 at New York It was only one game, but the Broncos look very smart for trading for and subsequently starting Teddy Bridgewater. He looked sharp running the offense. Melvin Gordon flashed some big-play ability as well on a monster 75-yard touchdown run and Vic Fangio was aggressive in his decision making. Defensively, this was an awesome performance. Denver held New York to just seven points up until the final play of the game. The Broncos roll into Florida to face a hapless Jaguars team in Week 2. There is a very good chance they get off to a 2-0 start.
22. Carolina Panthers:1-0(Last Week: 25) Won 19-14 vs. New York The Sam Darnold era in Carolina got off to a positive start. The former Jets quarterback beat his former team to open the season, showcasing some of the talent that made him the No. 3 overall pick in 2018. He missed a few throws as well, but this is a good sign for the future. That defensive front looked legit as well, hounding Zach Wilson all game long. We will see if the Panthers are ready to make some noise in the division when they host the Saints in Week 2.
23. Philadelphia Eagles: 1-0 (Last Week: 27) Won 32-6 at Atlanta Perhaps one of the most surprising results of the entire week, Philadelphia smacked Atlanta to open the season. Jalen Hurts looked like a franchise quarterback. A healthy offensive line and a revamped secondary definitely made a huge difference. The Eagles kept Hurts pretty clean and the defense got after Matt Ryan, sacking him three times and holding him to 4.7 yards per attempt. Philly will get a chance to prove themselves in a home matchup against the 49ers in Week 2. I have a feeling we will learn a lot about both teams.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: 1-0 (Last Week: 28) Won 27-24 vs. Minnesota The Bengals have a winning record! I am being somewhat sarcastic in my excitement, but it is the first time since November 2018 that the Bengals are above .500. It looked like Cincinnati was headed for a tie before Evan McPherson knocked through a game-winning field goal as time expired in overtime. Give Zac Taylor credit for riding Joe Mixon and the run game as a way to ease Joe Burrow back into action. However, the second-year quarterback was still sacked five times despite only attempting 27 passes in the game. That does not bode well, especially with the Bears and Steelers up in Week 2 and Week 3.
25. Minnesota Vikings: 0-1(Last Week: 20) Lost 27-24 at Cincinnati Mike Zimmer’s seat somehow got warmer after an ugly season-opening loss to the Bengals. The offensive line was atrocious, evidenced by Dalvin Cook’s 3.1 yards per carry average and the three sacks and eight hits Kirk Cousins took. The defense that many expected to improve after a dismal 2020 season didn’t look much better either. Next up? Chandler Jones and Cardinals in Arizona fresh off a beatdown of the Titans. Good luck Vikings fans.
26. Chicago Bears: 0-1(Last Week: 21) Lost 34-14 at Los Angeles The Andy Dalton experiment should probably come to an end, but Matt Nagy seems determined not to turn things over to Justin Fields. It remains to be seen if Chicago can actually win with Dalton under center. Facing the Rams in Los Angeles to open the season behind an incredibly banged up offensive line is not the easiest start. For Bears fans frustrated that Fields is not starting, go watch some highlights of Zach Wilson running for his life and getting sacked six times in his debut. That is exactly what Nagy is trying to avoid.
27. New York Giants: 0-1(Last Week: 24) Lost 27-13 vs. Denver As has been the case for all of his career, Daniel Jones showed the athleticism and playmaking that made him the No. 6 pick back in 2019. Unfortunately, he also continued to be maddeningly unreliable in big moments. A costly fumble when the Giants were driving made a comeback all but impossible. Jones scored a meaningless touchdown as the clock hit zero to make the scoreline seem a bit more respectable, but this team is heading nowhere fast. Even with Saquon Barkley back, New York cannot run the ball. The defense that inspired confidence a year ago gave up big plays and could not get off the field on key downs. Start scouting 2022 quarterbacks Giants fans.
28. Houston Texans: 1-0 (Last Week: 32) Won 37-21 vs. Jacksonville Just as we all expected, the Texans are atop the AFC South through one weekend of play. Tyrod Taylor accounted for over 300 yards of offense and a pair of touchdown passes. Perhaps even more surprising than Houston’s offensive showcase was the defensive effort. The Texans had a horrendous defense in 2020. That was before they lost J.J. Watt in free agency. Somehow, the unit tallied three interceptions and held Jacksonville to just 76 yards on the ground. Things will get a lot tougher in Week 2 with a visit to Cleveland, but this was a great debut for new head coach David Culley.
29. Atlanta Falcons: 0-1 (Last Week:26) Lost 32-6 vs. Philadelphia The Arthur Smith era opened with a resounding thud. Atlanta looked hopeless in its opener, getting shelled by a Philadelphia side that most people expected to be contending for the No. 1 overall pick. The Falcons managed two early field goals and then proceeded to be shut out for the remaining 45 minutes. Matt Ryan could not get the passing offense going. The defense did nothing to inspire confidence either, surrendering 32 points and 5.7 yards per carry while managing a single sack. It is looking like it might be a long season for the Falcons, who are likely wondering if they should have drafted a quarterback in May.
30. Detroit Lions: 0-1 (Last Week: 31) Lost 41-33 vs. San Francisco For two and a half quarters, this looked a lot like the hapless Lions team we all expected to see this year. They trailed 38-10 and looked lost in all three phases. Detroit outscored San Francisco 23-3 the rest of the way and nearly pulled off an epic comeback. While the Lions fell short, that late-game surge has to count for something. We will have to see if maybe the defense can find a way to avoid getting blown out early so Jared Goff doesn’t have to throw the ball 57 times. Dan Campbell will have his team in primetime against the Packers next Monday night.
31. New York Jets: 0-1 (Last Week: 29) Lost 19-14 at Carolina Maybe this is a bit harsh, but the team that played in the first half against the Panthers looked like the second-worst team in the league. However, if you are a Jets fan like me, you saw the flashes of potential that made you excited about Zach Wilson. The offensive line is unquestionably a problem, especially with Mekhi Becton likely to miss some time due to a MCL sprain. This is an incredibly young team with a rookie coaching staff and rookie quarterback. There are going to be a lot of growing pains, but there were definitely some positives, even in a loss.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars: 0-1 (Last Week: 30) Lost 37-21 at Houston It is important not to overreact after just one game. This was Urban Meyer’s and Trevor Lawrence’s first game in the NFL. That being said, my goodness the Jaguars look bad. We spent all offseason talking about how the Texans were going to be one of the worst teams in NFL history. I still don’t think Houston is very good, I now know that Jacksonville is just that bad. If this is how this team is going to compete every week, we might see Meyer coaching USC next year.
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The NFL is back! Before the season gets underway in full on Sunday, I wanted to go on record with my predictions for who will win the major awards handed out at the end of the regular season. I am so glad that football finally here again!
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Winner: Najee Harris, RB, Steelers I am incredibly way of the Steelers’ offensive line, but this is going to be about volume. No one else in Pittsburgh’s running back room has proven themselves in the NFL. Harris is going to be in line for a 350-touch season. The team seems committed to running the ball and relying on its defense to win games. That sets up a great situation for the former Alabama star to shine and take home the award.
Runner Up: Mac Jones, QB, Patriots Some of this is about Jones’ situation and some of it is due to his talent. He might have been the most pro-ready quarterback in the 2021 draft class. Now, he will play with a revamped Patriots offense behind a good offensive line. He also feels like a great fit for Josh McDaniels’ offense. His ability to make plays from the pocket and take care of the football bodes well for him having an impressive 2021 season. I think there might be too many hiccups for him to win the award. Quarterbacks tend to be dissected more intensely than any other position. I think it is too much to expect him to match Justin Herbert’s numbers from a year ago. He will be in the conversation, but I believe he will ultimately come up short.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Winner: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Broncos It only took one preseason game for Surtain to flash the potential that made him the No. 9 pick in the 2021 draft. He raced back a 30-yard pick-six against the Vikings in the Broncos’ preseason opener. Now, it was just the preseason, but that is the type of playmaking ability that will win Rookie of the Year. Without an elite edge rusher in this draft class, at least right out of the gate, there is a good chance we see either a corner or linebacker take home the award this year. I’m backing Surtain, who was my top corner prospect in 2021.
Runner Up: Jamin Davis, LB, Washington Davis flew up draft boards with his speed and instinctive playmaking style. He has the intangibles to become a sideline-to-sideline linebacker at the next level. Washington also has arguably the best defensive line in the NFL, which means Davis should have plenty of clear sight lines to the quarterback and ballcarriers. That front four eating up blocks will free up Davis to diagnose and go make plays. There will be a decent amount of competition for the award this year with Jaelan Phillips and Zaven Collins poised for big roles early in their careers, but I like Davis to stand out.
Offensive Player of the Year
Winner: Aaron Jones, RB, Packers Jamal Williams and his 70 receptions over the past two season are in Detroit. A.J. Dillon might still be there, but he is definitely a change of pace back. He will get carries, but I think Jones is in for a monster season. This offensive line will get better when David Bahktiari returns. Until then, Jones can run behind Elgton Jenkins. He will also continue to be involved in the passing game, where he has seen 131 targets over the past two years. This is going to be one of the best offenses in the league again and I expect Jones to be a huge part of that.
Runner Up: Tyreek Hill, WR, Chiefs It helps to play with Patrick Mahomes, but Hill is a special talent. After a 1,400-yards-from-scrimmage, 17-total-touchdown season, Hill had a legitimate claim to win the award in 2020. Sammy Watkins is now in Baltimore, so there is potential for Hill’s target share to even increase in 2021. With an improved offensive line, Mahomes will have even more time to drop dimes to Hill deep downfield.
Defensive Player of the Year
Winner: T.J. Watt, LB, Steelers Well part of this was an assumption that Watt would ball out in a contract year, but I still think he is in line for a special season. He has had at least 13 sacks in each of the past three seasons, including his league-leading 15 a season ago. He plays in a dynamic defense with tons of talent around him. Opposing teams will not be able to zero in on him in pass protection, at least not on every down. In addition to leading the league in sacks, Watt also tallied a league-high 23 tackles for loss. He is a disruptive force on a team that will be led by its defense.
Runner Up: Aaron Donald, DL, Rams Six straight First-Team All-Pros, seven straight Pro Bowls, four straight seasons with at least 11 sacks. It would unwise to predict anything but another stellar season by Donald. He is the best interior pass rusher in the NFL and one of the best ever. He is going to have plenty of pass rushing opportunities as well with the Rams seemingly poised to score a decent number of points on offense. Opposing teams will definitely need to be playing catch up. I think he will come close to securing another Defensive Player of the Year award.
Coach of the Year
Winner: Sean McDermott, Bills Expectations are understandably high for the Bills. Following a return to the AFC Championship Game for the first time since 1993. Josh Allen led a high-powered Buffalo offense that won the AFC East, however, the defense took a major step back. The front office invested in some young defensive players over the past few drafts. If the Bills can become a more complete team and McDermott gets this defense back to its 2019 form en route to a 13- or 14-win season, I think he will be more than deserving of the award.
Runner Up: Brandon Staley, Chargers A rookie head coach winning Coach of the Year? I think it could happen. The Chargers retooled their offensive line, get back some major contributors from injury on defense and have a talented, young quarterback to lead the way. Los Angeles likely won’t win the AFC West, that’s the downside to playing in the same division as the Chiefs, but the Chargers are definitely in contention for a wild card spot. I think if L.A. gets to 11 wins this season, which feels attainable given their talent and schedule, Staley should be in consideration for the award.
Comeback Player of the Year
Winner: Dak Prescott, QB, Cowboys I had Prescott picked well before I saw his season-opening performance against the Buccaneers. He plays in an offense loaded with weapons and was on a legitimate MVP pace in 2020 prior to his injury. I expect we will see a 5,000-yard season from him, especially with the extra regular season game. After coming off a serious ankle injury, it will be great to see Prescott get back to full strength.
Runner Up: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Panthers| If his brief appearances in 2020 were any indication, McCaffrey is still the best running back in the NFL. He is such a difference-maker in Carolina’s offense with his ability as a runner and as a pass catcher. It will be interesting to see how he gels with new Panthers quarterback, but I think his usage and productivity sets him up well to be in the mix for Comeback Player of the Year.
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs What if I told you the most talented quarterback in the NFL is going to play behind the best offensive line he has ever had in 2021? Well that is exactly what is going to happen in Kansas City. Mahomes was in the mix for MVP in 2020, but his production slowed a little bit down the stretch. With more time to pick apart opposing defenses a bevy of talented weapons to throw to, I think 50 touchdowns is within reach for Mahomes again. If he plays in all 17 games, I could definitely see him averaging three scores per game.
Runner Up: Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks I’m not totally sold on the Seahawks in 2021, but I still believe in Wilson. He has two reliable receivers on the outside in D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. I think new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron will help this offense avoid the second-half fallout it had in 2020. Through the first half of the year, no one could touch Wilson. He was tearing apart secondaries and toss touchdowns like it was no one’s business. Despite a major slowdown in his final eight games, Wilson still tossed 40 touchdowns. I think he can match that total while cutting down on the 13 interceptions he threw to truly challenge for MVP.
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With one week until the start of the NFL season, fantasy football draft season is in full swing. I’ve already had two drafts with a few more on the way. I am excited to put together my top 125 rankings heading into the 2021 season. I am a fantasy football junkie and this felt like the perfect time to release how I think players stack up from a fantasy perspective.
You will notice a few things as you run through these rankings. I am very high on running backs. It is always the shallowest position in fantasy other than maybe tight end. I tend to stock up on three of them by the sixth round at the latest, so my rankings reflect that a bit. I’m also big on finding high upside players later in the draft. Finding a safe fifth wide receiver to roster is not as valuable to me as targeting a player who might breakout and become a starting caliber option. It will inevitably lead to a few busts as well, but in recent years I’ve hit on D.K. Metcalf, Justin Jefferson and James Robinson. I’ve also whiffed on Devin Singletary, David Njoku and Daniel Jones. I prefer to take those risks later in the draft once I’ve built a more reliable starting lineup.
Also, I don’t follow this to the letter. If I already drafted Travis Kelce, I’m not touching Darren Waller just because he somehow slipped to Round 5. It is important to find value, but I’m not going to start two tight ends under pretty much any circumstances. It’s about knowing your league and what your team needs to be successful.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, CAR The clear cut option at the top of any draft. McCaffrey is a PPR dynamo. He missed a ton of time last year due to injury, but when he did play, he averaged over 30 points per game, by far the most of any running back in the league. With a full offseason to get healthy and a potentially improved offense, expect another monster year from Run CMC.
Dalvin Cook, RB, MIN The only player I think even warrants consideration at No. 1 outside of McCaffrey is Cook. He trailed only McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara in points per game among running backs in 2020. Minnesota bolstered its offensive line by drafting Christian Darrisaw and Wyatt Davis. The Vikings are going to run the ball a ton and Cook has a solid role in the passing game. He is a great RB1 option.
Alvin Kamara, RB, NO Kamara is a tricky evaluation this year. He dominated in 2020, finishing as the top running back in fantasy. However, we got a glimpse of what his production looks like post Drew Brees, and it was a little scary. Kamara averaged 14.1 points per game without Brees. That puts him on par with Miles Sanders. Not someone you want to spend a top five pick on in fantasy. However, his true projection might not be clear until we know who the Saints starting quarterback is. I expect his touches to decrease if Taysom Hill wins the job given that Hill is a run-first quarterback. If Jameis Winston takes the reins, that should solidify Kamara as a top-five pick.
Derrick Henry, RB, TEN This might feel a bit high for Henry in PPR, but he is such a dominant runner that he bucks all convention here. He finished solidly behind CMC, Cook and Kamara in points per game, but Henry is going to get volume. It will be interesting to see if the offense changes at all with Julio Jones on the roster and Arthur Smith no longer calling the plays, but I expect him to be a top 5 running back for the third year in a row.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, DAL 2020 was a rough season for Elliott. He finished as RB9 with 14.9 points per game. Those aren’t bad numbers, but also not what was expected of someone who was usually a top three pick before the season. However, Zeke scored 22.4 points per game before Dak Prescott got hurt. With Prescott back and his offensive line seemingly healthy again, he should be in line for another big season.
Aaron Jones, RB, GB For whatever reason, Jones seems to be getting slept on a little bit heading into the 2021 season. He finished as RB5 this past season and Jamaal Williams is now in Detroit. AJ Dillon figures to get some touches, but I think we can assume Jones will still be the bellcow. Aaron Rodgers is back as well. I can’t think of a reason why Jones would not be in the mix to be a top-five back again this year.
Davante Adams, WR, GB Everyone likes to talk about how dominant Travis Kelce is relative to the next best tight end in fantasy. How about some love for Adams? He outscored Tyreek Hill by 3.7 points per game. Only three receivers averaged at least 20 points per game last season. Adams averaged 25.6. Yes, the Packers did finally draft a receiver (Amari Rodgers went to Green Bay in the third round) and Randall Cobb is back, but there is no chance Aaron Rodgers just stops throwing to his favorite target.
Nick Chubb, RB, CLE On a points per game basis, Chubb finished as RB8 last season. He is limited as a pass catcher, which is why he shouldn’t go higher than this, but he will likely be a top-10 back again this season. He gets a chance to work behind arguably the best offensive line in the league in a run-heavy offense. Yes, Kareem Hunt will continue to get touches, but Cleveland is the one team in the league that runs the ball enough for two running backs to be fantasy starters.
Jonathan Taylor, RB, IND Taylor finally delivered on the preseason hype in the final six games of this past season. However, with Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines still on the roster and the offensive line already a bit banged up, I don’t think we will see Taylor get that kind of usage or level of productivity in his second season. He is still worthy of a top-10 pick. Just don’t expect him to get 20+ touches per game.
Austin Ekeler, RB, LAC I am still high on Ekeler, even after an injury-riddled 2020 season. He should be healthier in 2021 and he gets to work behind a better offensive line. Ekeler’s role as a pass catcher gives him a pretty solid floor in PPR formats. Even if he does lose some carries to the other backs on the Chargers’ roster, he should have enough volume to be a solid RB1.
Travis Kelce, TE, KC If the top five backs are off the board, it is time to find the top tight end in fantasy football. Usually, I’m wary of taking a tight end or quarterback this early, but Kelce is outperforming every other tight end in fantasy by a ridiculous margin. He outscored Darren Waller by 3.5 points per game, which is a ridiculous gap between the top two players at a position. Taking Kelce gives you a massive leg up on everyone else in your league at a position that typically lacks depth.
Saquon Barkley, RB, NYG The reports out of Giants’ camp are a little bit worrisome. Barkley is still not in contact drills and seems to be slowly ramping up for the season. The likelihood is that he will not be ready for Week 1. How long it takes him to get back on the field will greatly impact how much value you get out of drafting him around this spot. If he is healthy, he should see the volume and a pass catcher to be a true RB1. It is just hard to know when he is going to come back.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, KC CEH was unquestionably overhyped in 2020, but still had a solid rookie season. Now, he is healthy and working behind a much improved offensive line. I am still buying into Andy Reid’s track record at producing great fantasy football running backs. He feels like a great option if you opt for a receiver or tight end with your first pick. I like him even better as an RB2 alongside someone like Taylor or Ekeler.
Tyreek Hill, WR, KC Last time I checked, Patrick Mahomes is still the quarterback in Kansas City and after the Chiefs overhauled their offensive line this offseason, he should have even more time to drop back and drop dimes to Hill. The Cheetah finished as WR2 in 2020 and shows no signs of slowing down. Sammy Watkins is gone too, which means that Hill could have even less competition for targets.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, ARI With a truncated offseason in a new offense, Hopkins dazzled us with his playmaking ability. He and Kyler Murray had a clear connection from the start. Hopkins had at least seven targets in every game except one and nine games with double digit targets. With Larry Fitzgerald likely retiring and Dan Arnold now in Carolina, I think that target share is likely to stay the same. Even with the additions of Rondale Moore and AJ Green, Hopkins is going to be the go-to receiver in this pass-happy offense.
Antonio Gibson, RB, WAS It was a big debut season for Gibson. After coming into the year behind Peyton Barber and splitting time with J.D. McKissic. He only played 47 percent of snaps for Washington in 2020, but managed to finish as RB13. With an increase in snaps likely coming and hopefully some improved quarterback play, Gibson could be in for a breakout year. His offensive line is still a bit suspect, but the majority of his value comes as a pass catcher anyway. He is still learning how to be a running back.
Najee Harris, RB, PIT If there is a rookie running back to target in drafts this year, it is Harris. He is a well-rounded back with limited competition for touches. Pittsburgh is determined to run the ball more this year. While they waited a long time to address their offensive line in the draft and free agency, they did add Pat Freiermuth, who is a great run blocker. Given Harris’ ability as a pass catcher and route runner as well, he could finish as a top-10 running back.
Calvin Ridley, WR, ATL Julio Jones is in Tennessee and while people are really excited about Kyle Pitts, there is no question that Ridley is the No. 1 receiver in this offense. Matt Ryan needs to bounce back, but Ridley already finished as a top-five receiver last year with Jones still competing for targets. Now, he gets a chance to work in Arthur Smith’s offense. If Ryan sees a resurgence, it is likely Ridley will greatly benefit.
Chris Carson, RB, SEA Welcome to my annual people-sleeping-on-Chris-Carson rant. He finished as RB13 in points per game and scored at least 10 points in every game he played in from start to finish except one. There is very little competition for carries in Seattle and the new offensive coordinator still wants to run the ball. Carson also has at least a little bit of value as a pass catcher too. He won’t see a ton of targets, but he had at least three catches in eight of the 12 games he played last year. You could do much worse in searching for an RB2.
D.K. Metcalf, WR, SEA Carson’s Seattle teammate is sure to get a lot of love in fantasy drafts. Metcalf was a little bit boom or bust in 2020, but he still finished as WR7. However, he was the top receiver in fantasy through the first half of the season. The Seahawks offense fell apart down the stretch, but we’ve seen Metcalf’s ceiling is the best receiver in fantasy. That is more than worth grabbing at the end of the second round.
Stefon Diggs, WR, BUF No one outside of Buffalo likely expected the monster season Diggs put together in 2020. He finished 0.3 points behind Tyreek Hill, finishing as WR3. He led the league in receptions and helped Josh Allen put together an MVP caliber season. It is unlikely Diggs will get that type of volume again with Emmanuel Sanders on the roster and Gabriel Davis due for more snaps. Still, Diggs should be a lock as a top-10 receiver barring a massive regression from Allen.
James Robinson, RB, JAX While it is very unfortunate for Travis Etienne to be out for the season, anyone who drafted Robinson prior to the injury got themselves a steal. Expecting him to finish as RB6 like he did last season feels unrealistic. Carlos Hyde is still going to get carries and Trevor Lawrence can run the ball himself. Still, Robinson will get the volume and should have the general production to be a rock solid RB2 this season with some upside to crack the top 10 if Hyde falls off, as he tends to every year.
David Montgomery, RB, CHI He probably won’t match his RB4 finish from 2020, but Montgomery is still a solid option as a RB2. With Tarik Cohen returning, he will probably lose some targets in the passing game. The possibility of Justin Fields taking over at quarterback could jumpstart the offense, but it could also take a few carries from Montgomery. We are getting dangerously close to the running back cliff.
Amari Cooper, WR, DAL I’ve heard the buzz that CeeDee Lamb is the receiver you want from Dallas, but I’m not sure I buy it. Cooper averaged 20.3 points per game before Dak Prescott got hurt last year. That would’ve been the fourth most points per game of any receiver last season. Perhaps Cooper wouldn’t have maintained that over the full season, but I think it is safe to bet he will finish with more than 14.8 per game, which is what had over the course of 2020. I like him as a low-end WR1.
A.J. Brown, WR, TEN Brown had a strong rookie year, but he took it to a new level in 2020. From Week 5 on, Brown was WR6 on a points per game basis. He will likely cede some targets to Julio Jones, but Jones has struggled to stay healthy in recent years. Jonnu Smith is also gone. The biggest question mark will be what the offense looks like with the former playcaller now in Atlanta.
Keenan Allen, WR, LAC Justin Herbert had a monster rookie season and Allen was a huge beneficiary. He finished as WR7 on a points per game basis in 2020, only missing the final two weeks of the season. With Los Angeles opting to bolster its offensive line, Herbert should have even more time to carve up opposing defenses. Allen is clearly his favorite target, especially with Hunter Henry now in New England.
Joe Mixon, RB, CIN If he is healthy, this is good value for Mixon. But that is a pretty big if. Mixon played in just six games last season and it was assumed he would return, until he didn’t. He also had nearly half of his points from those games come in one game against the woeful Jaguars defense. His involvement in the passing game raises his floor, but there is still a decent amount of risk with Mixon.
Allen Robinson, WR, CHI Andy Dalton is going to start Week 1. He won’t start for long though. Justin Fields might be the best quarterback Robinson has ever caught passes from in his career. Part of that is because Fields is talented. The other part is because Robinson has never played with a good quarterback. He still finished as WR9 with Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles tossing passes. If Fields was starting Week 1, Robinson would be even higher.
George Kittle, TE, SF Injuries derailed Kittle’s 2020 season, but when he was healthy, he still had the third most points per game among all tight ends. It remains to be seen who will be throwing him passes this year, but even if it is Jimmy Garoppolo, Kittle matched Travis Kelce on a points per game basis in 2019. He should thrive again in Kyle Shanahan’s system.
Justin Jefferson, WR, MIN Jefferson had an unbelievable rookie season. I think he is in line for another big year, but the sophomore slump has gotten many receivers in recent years. His big hurdle to another top-10 season is consistency. While he had five games over 20 points in 2020, he also had six under 10 points. That boom-or-bust scoring drops him down a little bit for me, but he is still a fringe WR1.
Terry McLaurin, WR, WAS Scary Terry is due for some much improved quarterback play in 2021. Ryan Fitzpatrick might not be a Pro Bowler, but he will be a step up from some of the worst starting QBs in the league, which is what McLaurin had last year. He still finished in the top 20 among fantasy receivers. I’m bullish on him producing a lot more with Fitzpatrick under center.
Robert Woods, WR, LAR On one hand, Woods is due for some improved quarterback play, just like McLaurin. Matt Stafford is definitely an upgrade over Jared Goff. However, he will have some more competition for targets with DeSean Jackson and Tutu Atwell both arriving in the offseason. Still, I will be targeting Woods as a low-end WR1 or high-end WR2 in drafts.
Darren Waller, TE, LV While Travis Kelce is a tier of his own, there is a steep drop off after Kittle and Waller. The Raiders tight end finished as TE2 this past season, outscoring Logan Thomas as TE3 by over 100 points. If you can snag an elite tight end, you might sacrifice elsewhere, but the gap is massive.
CeeDee Lamb, WR, DAL Just because I like Amari Cooper a bit more, that doesn’t mean I don’t like Lamb. He will obviously get Prescott back and his role in the offense grew as the 2020 season rolled on. He has far surpassed Michael Gallup on the depth chart. He might get off to a bit of a slow start after spending the final weeks of the preseason on the COVID-reserve list, but it won’t take Lamb long to get going.
Patrick Mahomes, QB, KC This feels like the right spot for the top quarterback to come off the board. Mahomes gets to play behind a revamped offensive line with two of the best targets in the league running routes in Kelce and Hill. He offers a bit as a runner as well to bolster his value. I tend to be a “wait on quarterback” drafter. I’m not taking one without a couple of solid running backs and a receiver on my roster already.
Cooper Kupp, WR, LAR Kupp is a PPR dynamo. He racked up 92 receptions in 15 games this past year. He also only managed to score three touchdowns. With Matthew Stafford arriving, his volume should stay the same, if not increase. He will have a bit more competition for targets, but I expect him to be heavily involved in this offense.
Gus Edwards, RB, BAL With J.K. Dobbins done for the season after tearing his ACL, Edwards will step into a much larger role. He would have been a popular late-round flier even before Dobbins’ injury because of how much the Ravens run the ball. His floor is a lot lower due to the lack of involvement in the passing game, but he has RB1 upside given his likely usage as a runner.
DJ Moore, WR, CAR Every year, you hear about regression to the mean when it comes to fantasy scoring, particularly when it comes to touchdowns. That should work in Moore’s favor. He racked up 61 catches in 2020, but scored only four touchdowns. He gets a new quarterback in Sam Darnold, so it will be interesting to see if that boosts his production.
Mike Evans, WR, TB The best ability is availability. While his teammate Chris Godwin narrowly outscored Evans on a per game basis. Evans finished as WR11. Godwin finished as WR31. There is a lot of competition for targets, but Evans is still playing in a pass-first offense with the greatest quarterback of all time. That is worth drafting at this point.
Josh Allen, QB, BUF Out of nowhere, Allen elevated his game to MVP level. He drastically improved his accuracy and still showcased his penchant for big plays. With a solid receiving corps headlined by Stefon Diggs and offseason addition Emmanuel Sanders, expect more of the same from Allen. Even after getting paid, I expect him to stay hungry in pursuit of a Super Bowl.
Adam Theilen, WR, MIN He is definitely slowing down at this point in his career, but Theilen still seems to have a bit left in the tank. It is incredibly unlikely he replicates his 14-touchdown season from a year ago. He still feels like a solid WR2 as long as Kirk Cousins is still under center.
Miles Sanders, RB, PHI Sanders had a rough 2020 season. The Eagles offensive line could not stay healthy and Carson Wentz played horribly. Sanders also only played in 12 games. However, he still finished as RB19 on a points per game basis. That is not great for those who drafted him in the first round this past year, but it points to him providing some solid value in this spot. He will likely cede some carries to Jalen Hurts, but he will still be heavily involved in the offense.
Josh Jacobs, RB, LV The days of Jacobs earning 20+ carries are likely over. The addition of Kenyan Drake’s presence will undoubtedly cause Jacobs to lose a few touches and ends just about any hope of him getting more involved in the passing game. He has been a volume producer in recent years and the Raiders dismantled their offensive line this offseason. I wouldn’t touch Jacobs before the fifth round.
Chris Godwin, WR, TB As I mentioned when talking about Mike Evans, Godwin struggled to stay on the field. When he was playing though, he was a great fantasy option. He finished as WR15 on a per game basis in 2020. His upside might be a bit more limited with increased competition for targets. O.J. Howard is back and Antonio Brown will be available all season this time around. He is still a WR2 option.
Darryl Henderson, RB, LAR Henderson slides a little bit after the Rams acquired Sony Michel. However, he is still likely to see a large workload. Better quarterback play probably bodes well for his likelihood to score touchdowns this year. He is not very involved in the passing game though, which limits his upside. He is a decent RB2 option.
Tee Higgins, WR, CIN I was all over Tee Higgins in the 2020 draft. I had him ranked among my top 20 prospects. He had a strong rookie year and looks poised to improve in 2021. Ja’Marr Chase is getting plenty of love, but Higgins is the clear No. 1 receiver in this offense. Joe Burrow seems to be trending in the right direction as well.
D’Andre Swift, RB, DET I am much lower on Swift than most. He struggled mightily to stay healthy in rookie season. Then, the Lions went out and signed Jamaal Williams. They have been in the market for some veteran running backs as well. This team is also likely to be trailing a lot this year, which limits their likelihood to run the ball. This is the earliest I’m taking him.
Julio Jones, WR, TEN Which side of Julio Jones’ stat line from 2020 do you want to buy into? The angle that he finished as WR14 on a points per game basis, or the reality that he only played in nine games? If Jones is healthy, he is a great WR2 option even after moving to a run-first offense. His upside is incredible, but he has missed too many games in recent years for me to be confident about him being out there for all 17 contests.
T.J. Hockenson, TE, DET If there is anyone who could close the gap on the top three fantasy tight ends this year, it is Hockenson. There is not much competition for targets in Detroit. The team’s top receivers are Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman. Jared Goff also has a good track record of throwing to his tight ends as well.
Brandon Aiyuk, WR, SF Aiyuk quietly had a really impressive rookie season. He had five games where he scored at least 20 points. However, he also missed four games and had a couple of duds in there as well. He could be a great flex option, especially if the 49es as a team can get healthier in 2021.
Mike Davis, RB, ATL Davis is one of the toughest players to project. He dominated after stepping in for Christian McCaffrey in Carolina. He will now get a chance to be the starting back with very little competition for touches. His pass-catching ability gives him a very high floor, but the uncertainty of him joining a new team with a very small sample size for success makes me a little wary. He could wind up being a steal or a bust.
Diontae Johnson, WR, PIT He had a rocky start to the season, but Johnson settled in nicely in the second half. From Week 9 on, he scored at least 12.6 points in all but one game. He also had seven games with at least 19.9 points. However, Pittsburgh has a terrible offensive line and a ton of mouths to feed. The upside is clear, but there are some major question marks.
Lamar Jackson, QB, BAL The 2019 MVP took a bit of a step back in 2020, at least from a fantasy perspective. The Ravens invested heavily at wide receiver this offseason, signing Sammy Watkins and drafting Rashod Bateman. Jackson’s running ability already gives him a rock solid floor. If his passing numbers get anywhere close to his 2019 production, he will be a star again.
Kareem Hunt, RB, CLE How is it possible that RB10 from 2020 is going outside the top 50 despite his role not changing? Well, Hunt is the clear second back in Cleveland, but he was a top-five option when Nick Chubb went down. His effectiveness as a runner was a little suspect, but the Browns ran the ball enough for that not to matter, at least from a fantasy perspective. He is an elite handcuff, with fringe RB2 value on a weekly basis.
Myles Gaskin, RB, MIA Gaskin came from way off the radar to finishing as a top 30 back despite only playing in 10 games. He was RB12 on a per game basis, but the injuries are worrisome. So is Miami signing Malcolm Brown in the offseason. If Gaskin is truly the starter, he should be in the RB2 conversation, but that is a big if at this stage.
Chase Edmonds, RB, ARI After a few years of being a solid handcuff, Edmonds is ready to be a fantasy starter. Well, maybe. James Conner could easily steal some carries and Kyler Murray does a lot of the running himself. However, Edmonds is a solid pass catcher, which should keep his value steady even if Conner does see significant volume. You could do much worse when searching for a flex running back.
Ja’Marr Chase, WR, CIN There is a reason Chase was the first receiver drafted in April. He is uber talented. He also has a rapport with his new/old quarterback from their college days together. At some point, Chase is going to settle in and be a really good fantasy receiver. It just might not be right out of the gate as he adjusts to the NFL and gets back up to speed after sitting out the 2020 season.
Courtland Sutton, WR, DEN Just how good will the Broncos’ offense be with Teddy Bridgewater at the helm? The answer to that question will likely dictate Sutton’s fantasy value for 2021. He is also coming off a major knee injury that cost him the final 15 games of the year. Sutton feels like a bit of a sleeper in this spot, but there are some major questions surrounding him.
Tyler Lockett, WR, SEA It is hard to believe that Lockett finished as WR8 in 2020. He scored 46 percent of his points across three monster games. Otherwise? He was WR32 in his other 13 games. His inconsistency is not something I’m too interested in for a weekly format. It is great for best ball leagues, but I don’t see him as much more than a flex option in 2021.
Kyler Murray, QB, ARI Before he suffered an ankle injury in 2020, Murray was the best quarterback in fantasy. He had the most points per game through Week 11 with close to 30 per contest. He faded down the stretch as his mobility was limited. This is the trade off that comes with Murray, who offers tons of value with his legs, but has a slight frame and is definitely more susceptible to injury. He is still a great option at quarterback.
Will Fuller, WR, MIA He will miss Week 1 due to a suspension, but Fuller lit it up in 2020. He finished as WR8 on a points per game basis, missing the final five games of the year due to that same suspension. Tua Tagovailoa is a step down from Deshaun Watson at quarterback, but Fuller should still be in line for a solid season.
Michael Thomas, WR, NO This is about the time that taking the risk on Thomas could be worth it. He is likely out for the first six weeks of the season at minimum. However, with Jameis Winston winning the starting job, his fantasy value when he gets healthy will likely be in the fringe WR1 range. Keep in mind he is only one season removed from a dominant year where he finished as WR1 by nearly 100 fantasy points.
Russell Wilson, QB, SEA If you want a top-10 quarterback in fantasy, just draft Wilson. He has finished no worse than QB9 since 2017. He was cooking through the first half of the season, averaging over 30 points per game, but the offense collapsed in the back half of the year. Seattle wants to run the ball more, which could cap Wilson’s upside, but he will still find ways to produce at a high level.
Mark Andrews, TE, BAL Andrews’ ADP surged following a TE5 finish in 2019, but he failed to quite live up to the hype. He still finished as TE6, but he actually scored 1.2 fewer points per game in the process. He is a bit touchdown dependent, but he should still be one of the best tight ends in fantasy this year.
Chase Claypool, WR, PIT Claypool burst onto the scene with his monster 42.6-point performance against the Eagles in Week 5. He was a decent flex option for much of the year, but faded down the stretch. With the Steelers likely to throw the ball a lot less in 2021, I’m not so sure Claypool will be able to replicate his production. There is still plenty of competition for targets, too. I would temper your expectations for a sophomore surge.
Dak Prescott, QB, DAL Through the first five games of the season, Prescott was the clear No. 1 quarterback in fantasy. However, his ankle injury cost him the rest of the year. He still led all quarterbacks in fantasy points per game, but there is some concern over his durability, especially with a shoulder injury cropping up in the preseason. If he can get healthy, he has the weapons to be the top quarterback in fantasy this year. His injuries are what pushes him down to this point.
Javonte Williams, RB, DEN At this point, these running backs are taking shots in the dark and hoping something lands. Williams is an exciting prospect, but he is likely to be in a committee with Melvin Gordon. He did grow as a receiver in his time at UNC, so perhaps he will have a bit more value in the passing game. He is a potential flex option with upside if Gordon happens to get hurt.
Marvin Jones Jr., WR, JAX If you have watched any of the preseason, you have seen the rapport Jones and rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence have already developed. Jones seems set to be the team’s No. 1 receiver and could see a pretty robust target share given the injuries to D.J. Chark in the preseason. As Matthew Berry likes to point out, Jones is also the only receiver to score at least nine touchdowns in each of the past two seasons. He could be a solid flex option.
Kyle Pitts, TE, ATL I know Pitts is going waaaaaay earlier than this in fantasy drafts, but he shouldn’t be. Rookie tight ends almost never do well in fantasy. I know everyone says he is really a receiver, but I still wouldn’t trust his role in this offense. Arthur Smith likes to spread the ball around and run the ball. Pitts will likely be a solid option, but he is being overdrafted at the moment.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, GB Oh hey there QB2 from 2020. Rodgers returned to his MVP ways with a dominant season. A lot was made about his offseason, but it likely won’t impact his fantasy value much. He also gets one of his favorite targets back with Randall Cobb’s return. He won’t provide much value as a runner, which limits his upside, but he is such a talented thrower that he can obviously more than make up for it.
Tyler Boyd, WR, CIN Don’t sleep on Boyd. Even with Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase on board, Boyd figures to have a solid role in this offense. He actually narrowly outscored Higgins on a per game basis in 2020. Given Chase’s preseason struggles, I wouldn’t expect his role to disappear any time soon.
Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, JAX Injuries limited Shenault’s availability last season, but he showed flashes of being an exciting playmaker. He is incredible in run-after-catch situations and should see a pretty solid target share, especially if D.J. Chark is banged up. Shenault’s own injury history drops his stock a little bit, but he is definitely a breakout candidate in 2021.
Robby Anderson, WR, CAR Anderson has history with Sam Darnold and is playing in a much better offense than when he was in New York. After a blistering start to 2020, Anderson faded down the stretch. He could lose out on some targets with Terrace Marshall in town, but he definitely projects as a matchup-specific flex option.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, PIT It is hard to believe that JuJu Smith Schuster was a top-10 fantasy receiver in 2018. It has been a steep drop-off since then. He still finished as WR16 in 2020, but it was a boom-or-bust season. He was held under seven points four times last season, but eclipsed 20 points four times as well. I worry about his target share with more mouths to feed (Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth) and the Steelers likely to throw the ball less than they did a year ago.
James Conner, RB, ARI From a current Steeler to a former Steeler. Conner now has a chance to get carries in Arizona. Chase Edmonds is likely going to start as the lead back, but a healthy Conner has been the better option over the course of their NFL careers. This could be a major sleeper if he is able to win the backfield.
DeVonta Smith, WR, PHI I’m a little concerned about Smith’s ability to stay healthy in the pros, but there is no doubt that he is an electric playmaker. He will also have very little competition for targets with a ton of unproven receivers around him on the roster. If he can get out on the field and reconnect with his former college teammate Jalen Hurts, he could provide way more value than where he is being drafted.
Jerry Jeudy, WR, DEN It was not the rookie season many would’ve expected from Jeudy after being drafted in the top 15 of the 2020 NFL draft. Instead of lighting it up, he averaged fewer than 10 points per game. Now, he will have some steadier quarterback play and a full offseason to acclimate to the NFL. I don’t think he is going to be a star just yet, but he should take a pretty sizable step toward looking like the receiver we saw at Alabama.
Brandin Cooks, WR, HOU By virtue of being basically the only receiver left in Houston, Cooks should see a lot of action. Unfortunately, his quarterback situation takes a major step backward moving from Deshaun Watson to Tyrod Taylor. Still, in PPR, that type of volume is enticing by this stage in the draft. I don’t think he has a ton of upside, but he should have a high floor as well.
Michael Pittman Jr., WR, IND It is hard to find a team’s No. 1 receiver this late in most drafts, but Pittman is exactly that in Indianapolis. With T.Y. Hilton slowing down and dealing with injuries and Paris Campbell unable to stay on the field so far, Pittman should see a sizable target share. Assuming Carson Wentz is going to be on the field a lot this season, Pittman should be going well ahead of where he is being drafted.
Kenny Golladay, WR, NYG Already, there are injury concerns for Golladay in New York. He is an incredibly talented receiver, but he has struggled to stay on the field. The Giants also have questions along the offensive line and a ton of receivers to throw to. I worry about Golladay seeing the target share that made him such a valuable fantasy commodity in the past. Plus, the injury history is very worrying.
D.J. Chark, WR, JAX There is no question that Chark will benefit from playing with Trevor Lawrence, but will he be on the field enough to matter? Is he even the No. 1 receiver in this offense with Marvin Jones Jr. and Laviska Shenault looking strong in the preseason? Those questions push him down my draft board, but the upside is undeniable. Chark finished as WR17 in 2019 and could do it again if he can stay on the field.
Deebo Samuel, WR, SF Can Samuel stay healthy? He only played in seven games in 2020, including one where he left after one carry. With better quarterback play and a very creative offensive coordinator, Samuel could be in for a major bounce back year, but I’m a bit wary of his injury history and consistency.
Raheem Mostert, RB, SF Same thing goes for Mostert. When healthy, he has been a great fantasy back. He had at least 10 touches in every game he played in 2020, but with the arrival of Trey Sermon and Wayne Gallman, there is a chance Mostert’s weekly usage declines. As good as Kyle Shanahan’s system is at producing fantasy stars, there is a lot of risk involved here.
Antonio Brown, WR, TB As much as I might not like Antonio Brown, he is a good fantasy option. He was on fire down the stretch last season, finishing in the top 25 on a points per game basis among all receivers. He could fall victim to the same issues facing Chris Godwin and Mike Evans where there are just too many mouths to feed on a weekly basis. There is tons of upside, but definitely some risk given his standing compared to the rest of the receivers in this offense.
Marquez Callaway, WR, NO If you have watched any of this preseason, you have seen Callaway light it up. He and Jameis Winston are locked in right now. Michael Thomas will miss at least the first six games of the season on the PUP list as well, and there really isn’t anyone else on this roster to command targets. Not downfield at least. Alvin Kamara is going to go to work. Until further notice, Callaway is going to be a flex option or better on a weekly basis.
Dallas Goedert, TE, PHI Zach Ertz is still on the roster, but Goedert is the clear go-to tight end now. Injuries definitely held him back as he learned to play with a new quarterback as well. I think we see a bounce back season from Goedert, especially after a full offseason to work with Jalen Hurts.
Damien Harris, RB, NE Can you ever trust the Patriots backfield? The answer is usually no, but with Sony Michel shipped out, Harris has a little competition for carries. James White and Rhammondre Stevenson will both be involved, but Harris will likely be the lead back. Against the right matchups, he could have RB2 upside. He just won’t be someone you can start every week.
Melvin Gordon, RB, DEN While Javonte Williams is the shiny new toy in Denver’s offense, Gordon will still have some say in who controls the backfield. He finished as RB14 and produced well despite the Broncos’ awful quarterback situation. He was a little streaky, scoring his nine touchdowns in just six games. If Teddy Bridgewater can provide some stability, Gordon could be in the flex conversation again.
Trey Sermon, RB, SF One of my favorite rookies to target this year is Sermon. He is a good runner who comes into a great situation. San Francisco’s running backs have struggled to stay healthy in recent years, which could present Sermon with the opportunity to be a bellcow back. Sermon has his own injury history to worry about, but this feels like a good spot to take that risk.
Jarvis Landry, WR, CLE Landry had a down year despite becoming the top receiver in Cleveland. He had six games with fewer than eight points and only topped 20 once. With Odell Beckham Jr. still working his way back from injury, Landry should still see a good number of targets, but in an offense that does not throw the ball much, I wouldn’t be counting on him as a reliable fantasy starter.
Justin Herbert, QB, LAC Expectations for Herbert are high after a monster rookie season. An improved offensive line could see him take the next step after a year where he already finished as QB9. With plenty of weapons and a new offensive coordinator who spent a long time working with Drew Brees, I think Herbert is a very solid starting QB option in fantasy.
Logan Thomas, TE, WAS Coming from way off the radar, Thomas surprised everyone with a TE3 finish in 2020. Why he is this low is because he probably won’t match his 110 targets. Ryan Fitzpatrick has never been one to rely on tight ends and the arrival of Curtis Samuel and Dyami Brown will likely cost him a ton of opportunities in this offense. However, there is a good chance his yards per catch climbs close to the league average and we see him do a bit more work on fewer touches.
Elijah Moore, WR, NYJ Reports out of Jets camp are that Moore is the clear No. 1 receiver. He hasn’t had a chance to show it in the preseason because of a quadriceps injury, but he has flashed tons of playmaking ability. His versatility to line up outside and in the slot means he should be on the field a lot. I think he could turn out to be a solid flex option later in the season.
Jaylen Waddle, WR, MIA While Waddle is undoubtedly more talented than Moore, Moore has way less competition for targets. DeVante Parker is still in Miami and Will Fuller figures to play a significant role after returning from suspension. Mike Gesicki will definitely see some targets from the tight end spot, too. Waddle has the potential to be a game-breaker, but I would target him more in non-PPR formats because I don’t think he will have a huge target share.
Odell Beckham Jr., WR, CLE Will we ever see the Beckham we saw in New York? From 2014-2018, he was in the top 10 on a point-per-game basis every year. He missed some time in 2017, but otherwise, he was an explosive playmaker who put up great fantasy numbers. Beckham finished outside the top 30 in points per game each of the past two years since joining the Browns. That doesn’t bode well for his prospects in 2021.
Tom Brady, QB, TB The GOAT turned it around after a rocky start to the season. Brady finished as QB7 on a points per game basis over the final eight weeks of the season. It seems like he has figured out Bruce Arians’ offense and gotten on the same page with his receivers. With even more targets this year, including a full season of Antonio Brown and the return of O.J. Howard, Brady should be primed for another solid year.
Leonard Fournette, RB, TB Do we trust that Playoff Lenny is going to show up in the regular season? Tampa Bay, much like New England, has opted to rotate through a number of running backs with Fournette, Ronald Jones, Giovani Bernard and Ke’Shawn Vaughn all on the roster. Still, we saw Fournette take over in the postseason. If he gets the type of workload in September that he got in January, this would be a steal.
Zack Moss, RB, BUF It appears Moss is set to be the lead back in the Bills offense in 2021. That might not mean a ton. Neither Moss nor Devin Singletary managed to crack 150 fantasy points last season. With Josh Allen stealing goal line carries and the team solidly committed to a running back by committee approach, his upside is limited, but he could be a spot starter in the case of injury or a bye week.
Michael Gallup, WR, DAL If there is anyone that feels like a post-hype sleeper to me this year, it is Gallup. He is clearly the third receiver in Dallas’ offense, but he flashed a high-ceiling with three games over 20 points. Gallup will not be an every week starter, but with Dak Prescott back and a pass-happy offense, he could be a matchup-specific flex option.
Ryan Tannehill, QB, TEN One of the most frequently overlooked fantasy quarterbacks, Tannehill finished as QB7 and added Julio Jones to his offense. For as much as the Titans like to run the ball, Tannehill gets plenty of opportunity to make plays. Consistency is a huge factor here as well, with only three games under 16 points in 2020. He is a very solid weekly starter.
A.J. Dillon, RB, GB Welcome to handcuff running back territory. Dillon is in line for a larger role this year with Jamaal Williams in Detroit now. However, he is still clearly the backup to Aaron Jones and does not bring a ton to the table as a pass catcher. If Jones goes down though, Dillon enters RB1 territory.
Jamaal Williams, RB, DET Staying in the division, Williams does not project as the Day 1 starter right now, but it might not take long. D’Andre Swift is dealing with some nagging injuries and has a history of missing time. For as questionable as this Lions roster is, the offensive line looks really strong. If Swift misses time, Williams could be a solid RB2.
Noah Fant, TE, DEN Teddy Bridgewater taking over at quarterback does not do too much to boost Fant’s fantasy value. The return of Courtland Sutton definitely hurts it. Fant is due for a breakout, but there are a lot of receivers here to garner targets in what could end up being a run-first offense. He did finish as TE8 in 2020, but I don’t know that he will be able to climb any higher this year.
Corey Davis, WR, NYJ If you read my weekly waiver wire column this past year, you know I was pounding the table for Davis all year long. He missed a few games and had some duds, but overall, it was a solid season for him. Now, he could be in line to be the Jets No. 1 receiver. There will be some bumps in the road with Zach Wilson at quarterback, but Davis should seem a good target share in this offense.
Darnell Mooney, WR, CHI A nice surprise as a rookie, Mooney emerged as a complementary receiver to Allen Robinson in the Bears offense. Now, Mooney will get some better quarterback play, especially once Justin Fields takes over. With a full offseason under his belt, Mooney is an exciting breakout candidate.
Curtis Samuel, WR, Washington Samuel is reunited with Ron Rivera in Washington, but that likely hurts his fantasy value. He broke out for a WR24 finish with 14.1 points per game in 2020. That was under Matt Rhule and Joe Brady though. The year before playing for Rivera and Scott Turner? He was WR36 and had 10.7 points per game. I think he falls somewhere in between, but don’t expect a repeat of last season.
Nyheim Hines, RB, IND Hines’ value skyrocketed when Marlon Mack went down with an injury in Week 1 of 2020. He made the most of the opportunity, finishing as RB15. He was heavily involved in the passing game and if Jonathan Taylor ever goes down, Hines enters the RB1 conversation.
Tyler Higbee, TE, LAR It is possible no player benefits more from the arrival of Matthew Stafford than Higbee. Stafford has a great track record of throwing to his tight ends. Higbee also is in line for even more targets with Gerald Everett now in Seattle. There are still plenty of receivers to choose from in Los Angeles, but I think Higbee should be involved more than enough to be relevant.
Henry Ruggs, WR, LV How is Ruggs going to fare in Year 2? He had an underwhelming rookie season, finishing as WR94 and scoring over 10 points just twice. With a full offseason to work with Derek Carr, Ruggs could be primed for a better sophomore campaign. He is in line to be his team’s No. 1 target. If you are in best ball leagues, Ruggs is a great player to snag. He is a big risk just about every other setting.
Robert Tonyan, TE, GB There is almost no chance Tonyan replicates his 2020 production. He had 11 touchdowns on just 52 catches. He is clearly a great red zone target, but it is unlikely he can continue to be that efficient. With Randall Cobb returning to the team, his target share is likely to decrease rather than increase. He still has value, but finishing as TE4 again feels like too much to ask for.
Joe Burrow, QB, CIN If the line can protect him, Burrow is going to have plenty of weapons to work with. Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd and Ja’Marr Chase are an exciting trio of receivers and the Bengals get C.J. Uzomah and Joe Mixon back from injury. He had an up and down rookie season, but there is no doubt he has the talent to thrive in the NFL.
Russell Gage, WR, ATL With Julio Jones in Tennessee, Gage seems primed for a larger role in the Falcons offense. He has shown plenty of promise and finished the season on a tear. From Week 13 to Week 17, Gage was the 10th best receiver in fantasy. I fully expect him to be in the flex conversation this season.
Ronald Jones II, RB, TB Welcome to New England south, at least when it comes to fantasy running backs. Jones was supposed to be the lead back in 2020, but saw his role shrink slowly as the year rolled on. Fournette is back and the team added Giovani Bernard. If Fournette goes down, Jones becomes way more valuable, but unless that happens, he will have a lot of competition for carries.
Jonnu Smith, TE, NE This Patriots offense is built for tight ends to have success. Smith is likely to go heavily featured, especially with Hunter Henry already injured. Mac Jones is a very good passer and Smith will likely benefit from his presence. It’s not ridiculous to think he will be the most targeted player in this offense this season. Then again, the Patriots might just use him as a decoy half the time, so who knows.
Tony Pollard, RB, DAL Pollard has been one of the top handcuffs in the league for a few years now. The one week that Ezekiel Elliott was out in 2020, Pollard went off for over 30 points. He does not offer a ton of value when Elliott is healthy, but he still gets to work behind a strong offensive line.
DeVante Parker, WR, MIA Lost a bit in the hype around adding Jaylen Waddle and Will Fuller, Parker is still a viable option in Miami. He had some bright spots in 2020 and will get a chance to play a very young Jets secondary twice. He is not going to be a weekly starter, but there will be some opportunities for him to be in your lineup.
Rhamondre Stevenson, RB, NE With Sony Michel now in Los Angeles, short-yardage work and goal line carries will now fall to Stevenson. He is a physical runner and could end up scoring a decent number of touchdowns this season. His volume won’t be super high and he will not be a factor in the passing game, but there is still value here.
Kenyan Drake, RB, LV The outlook for Drake heading into 2021 is rather bleak. He had a strong 2020 season, clocking in at RB16. However, that was over 250 touches. He will not see that again with the Raiders while backing up Josh Jacobs. Drake will likely still be involved in the passing game, but he only had 25 receptions last year. He is going to need to see a much larger target share for him to be a factor in fantasy.
Matt Stafford, QB, LAR Stafford joins a much better situation in L.A. than the one he leaves behind. I wouldn’t expect him to climb into the top five, but the improved supporting cast could see him reach the top 10. For reference, he was QB16 in 2020. His lack of mobility limits his value in fantasy, but Stafford is a solid late-round flier.
Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, DET Someone has to catch Jared Goff’s passes, right? The Lions just released Breshad Perriman on cut down day. Their starters right now are Tyrell Williams and Khalif Raymond. I would expect St. Brown to get some run. He was great out of the slot in college. I like him as a late-round stash with hopes he grows into that role as the season rolls on.
Trevor Lawrence, QB, JAX While his offensive line does seem a little suspect, Lawrence is in a good spot to have success early on, at least from a fantasy perspective. He brings some value as a runner and will likely be throwing a ton with his team trailing in the second half. Especially playing the Texans in Week 1, Lawrence could be an immediate starting option.
Mike Williams, WR, LAC Once again, there were some flashes, but not enough consistency from Mike Williams. He barely cracked the top 50 in 2020. Los Angeles also went out and brought in more competition for targets with Jared Cook and Josh Palmer. I’m fading Williams. He would need to take a big step forward or have an injury to Keenan Allen to see any significant movement in the rankings.
Devin Singletary, RB, BUF Hopes of Singletary winning the lead role in this backfield are long gone. He is in a pretty even time share with Zack Moss, but it likely tips in Moss’ favor. With Josh Allen running as much as he does, Singletary simply does not see enough value to be a weekly starter. He has his moments, he had seven games with at least 10 points in 2020, but he will likely spend much of the year on your bench.
David Johnson, RB, HOU In theory, Johnson should be the starter in Houston. However, Phillip Lindsay and Mark Ingram are both still on the roster, which points to a running back by committee situation. Johnson quietly finished as RB15 on a points per game basis in 2020, so the upside is there, but his situation has gotten much worse.
Justin Fields, QB, CHI Obviously, Fields is not starting in Week 1. However, I don’t think it will be long before he unseats Andy Dalton. He has shown flashes in the preseason to be excited about and has some good receivers to work with. If you are looking for a late flier with upside to stash, Fields is likely top of my list in that category.
It’s almost time for football! Training camp is getting underway and the NFL rumor mill is in full effect. Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson and even Chandler Jones could be on the move.
There will be plenty of time to get into all of the potential scenarios for the big names looking for a change of scenery. I wanted to take a look at where every coach in the NFL stands though as we approach the preseason. Every year, we see about seven or eight head coaching openings in the league. Those openings don’t happen without a coach losing his job. Here is an early look at which coaches could be sweating it out at the end of the season. My plan is to update this list at the midway point and again after the regular season.
New York Jets – Robert Saleh Heat Index: 🔥 A rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback. It’s the first time the Jets have ever had both heading into the same season in franchise history. That takes the pressure off everyone here. While seeing a massive turnaround from a 2-14 season would be great, it is not expected. As long as Saleh can show signs that he is putting the pieces in place for future success, that’s all that matters. Besides, after dealing with Adam Gase for two years, Saleh will be a breath of fresh air.
New England Patriots – Bill Belichick Heat Index: 🔥🔥 Could the Patriots really fire Bill Belichick? It feels unlikely. At this point, I think it is more likely Belichick retires or leaves on his own accord than being fired. Still, after a very rocky 2020 season, the Patriots spent a ton of money in the offseason to retool their roster. They also spent a first round pick on Mac Jones. If New England takes a step backward though and the offense flops again, maybe the team could think about making a change. Again, it feels incredibly unlikely, but the expectations are certainly higher for the Patriots in 2021.
Buffalo Bills – Sean McDermott Heat Index: 🔥🔥 The Bills are entering a clear championship window in the final two years of Josh Allen’s rookie deal. Allen took a massive step in 2020 and put together an MVP-caliber campaign. If he can come close to replicating that performance, Buffalo will be very capable of winning its first Super Bowl in franchise history. In order to get to that point, Sean McDermott needs to get the defense back to its 2019 form. With higher expectations comes increased pressure. It would take a truly miserable season for McDermott to lose his job, but he has to deliver.
Miami Dolphins – Brian Flores Heat Index: 🔥 Honestly, if the Dolphins went 0-17 and Tua Tagovailoa lost his starting job to Jacoby Brissett, I think Brian Flores might still keep his job. He is a ton setter and a great culture builder. Let’s be clear, I don’t expect the above scenario to come true. Miami came up one game short of reaching the playoffs in an incredibly competitive AFC. Even if Tagovailoa falters again, I think Flores would get a chance to pick another quarterback and continue building the framework of this team.
Indianapolis Colts – Frank Reich Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥 Which direction are the Colts headed? The team has a championship-caliber roster in a lot of areas. Their front seven is incredible. The secondary should be even better in 2021. The offensive line is definitely among the top five units in the league. They lack a true No. 1 receiver at this point, but they have depth at the skill positions. It now all falls on Frank Reich and Carson Wentz. Indianapolis acquired Wentz this offseason for a decent amount of draft capital, reuniting him with his offensive coordinator from his early days in Philadelphia. If the Colts struggle in what looks to be a fairly weak AFC South and miss the postseason, there could be some significant turnover in Indy.
Houston Texans – David Culley Heat Index: 🔥 If there was ever a team that could be accused of tanking in the NFL, it has to be the Houston Texans. After releasing franchise icon J.J. Watt amid a massive quarterback controversy on the heels of a 4-12 season, it seems like the Texans are entering a long rebuild. With limited draft capital in recent years, this roster has a massive talent deficit compared to the rest of the league. The roster building is confusing as well, as the team continues to target veteran running backs. Deshaun Watson was likely not going to play this season before his pending legal situation unfolded. Now it seems certain he will not see the field in 2021. All of this is to say, there is absolutely no pressure on David Culley to succeed this season.
Tennessee Titans – Mike Vrabel Heat Index: 🔥🔥 Mike Vrabel has the Titans playing at an extremely high level. They are tough, determined and disciplined, which is usually a product of good coaching. After making a splashy move to land Julio Jones, the pressure is on for Tennessee to make a deep postseason run. With Arthur Smith heading to Atlanta, it is going to be interesting to see if the Titans can maintain their offensive success. A major step backward could see Vrabel come under scrutiny. I think his job is safe, but stranger things have happened.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Urban Meyer Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥 It is very bizarre to say a first-year head coach is on the hot seat, but Urban Meyer is unlike most rookie coaches. Meyer comes with a ton of clout from his days at Ohio State and Florida. He also just drafted arguably the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck. The heat here mostly stems from Meyer’s checked history with team culture. The league fined the Jaguars $200,000 for OTA violations and slapped Meyer with a $100,000 fine of his own. The fines stemmed from breaking the non-contact rules of OTAs. This comes on the heels of Meyer hiring former Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle. Doyle resigned one day after his hire following a chorus of former Hawkeyes saying he discriminated against them. The Jaguars have a chance to build something special around Trevor Lawrence. There have already been red flags. Jacksonville needs to be sure it has the best possible system in place for Lawrence to succeed.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Mike Tomlin Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥 With Ben Roethlisberger’s tenure in Pittsburgh seemingly at its end, could the Steelers opt for a fresh start and move on from Mike Tomlin as well? It certainly feels possible. Despite winning the AFC North and reaching the playoffs, Pittsburgh struggled mightily down the stretch, including a dismal playoff loss against the rival Browns. With no clear succession plan in place and a roster coming up against the cap, the Steelers could look to rebuild with a new coach and a new quarterback.
Baltimore Ravens– John Harbaugh Heat Index: 🔥🔥 A few years ago ago, it felt very possible the Ravens were set to move on from John Harbaugh. Baltimore missed the playoffs from 2015-2017. Joe Flacco was struggling. The defense was far from its championship-winning dominance in 2012. Lamar Jackson likely saved Harbaugh’s job. Baltimore is now among the top title contenders heading into 2021. Harbaugh feels very safe, but there is always a scenario where he could not be back. There have been concerns around the Ravens offense being too one dimensional with Jackson at the helm. Finally winning a playoff game took the edge off, but if Baltimore somehow misses the postseason in 2021, the heat will be turned up on Harbaugh.
Cleveland Browns – Kevin Stefanski Heat Index: 🔥 After reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and winning the franchise’s first playoff game since 1994, Kevin Stefanski is among the safest coaches in the league. His run-heavy approach was incredibly successful, utilizing the two-headed attack of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to great effect. Stefanski also put Baker Mayfield’s career back on the right path. Now, there are still questions that persist around Mayfield, but after investing heavily in the defense, he might not need to do much for the Browns to be successful again.
Cincinnati Bengals – Zac Taylor Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥🔥 Through two years on the job, Zac Taylor owns an ugly 6-25-1 record as a head coach. Some of that is a product of joining a team in the midst of a rebuild, but this is the year to start seeing some progress. Joe Burrow is undoubtedly the quarterback of the future in Cincinnati. Coming off a gruesome knee injury, expectations will be tamped down some for Burrow, but another double-digit loss season could cost Taylor his job. The team needs to take advantage of Burrow being on his rookie contract and can’t afford to waste another year of his development and that salary cap window waiting to see if Taylor can put together a winning formula.
Kansas City Chiefs – Andy Reid Heat Index: 🔥 Unsurprisingly, the pressure seems to be fairly low on Andy Reid. He delivered the franchise its first Super Bowl victory since 1970 in 2019. He led the team back to the big game in 2020 despite having an offensive line decimated by injuries. It cost the Chiefs a chance at repeating, but Kansas City is expected to be among the top contenders to lift the Lombardi in 2021. As long as Reid and Patrick Mahomes are still clicking, the Chiefs are going to be among the best teams in the league.
Denver Broncos – Vic Fangio Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥 Maybe this is a bit warmer than Vic Fangio truly deserves, but the Broncos are heading into a pivotal season. The team put a lot of faith in Drew Lock by passing on Justin Fields and Mac Jones on draft night. Courtland Sutton is back after missing 2020 due to injury. So is Von Miller. Winning the division is an incredibly tall task at this point with the Chiefs leading the way, but it feels like the Broncos need to be in the playoff conversation for Fangio to keep his job. Another five-win season with suspect quarterback play and a subpar defense is going to trigger a rebuild.
Los Angeles Chargers – Brandon Staley Heat Index: 🔥 Brandon Staley walks into a fantastic situation. He has a talented defense with a number of proven playmakers. He inherits one of the most exciting quarterback prospects in the league in Justin Herbert. Los Angeles is also stocked with some reliable playmakers on offense with Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler. The Chargers are simply looking to take a step in the right direction this year. Anthony Lynn was a good coach, but struggled with time management and maintaining leads. If Staley can show an ability to at least be average in those two areas, he will be a major improvement and the Chargers will be at least a league average team.
Las Vegas Raiders – Jon Gruden Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥 At what point are the Raiders going to put it all together? Heading into his fourth year of his second stint with the franchise, Jon Gruden has yet to post a winning record or reach the postseason. Las Vegas had its moments in 2020, but on the whole it was a disappointing campaign. If the Raiders don’t show signs of progress, expect a rebuild to follow. Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock have had ample opportunity to shape this team how they want it to. Now it is time for the results to follow.
New York Giants– Joe Judge Heat Index: 🔥🔥 Only entering his second year, Joe Judge might be a victim of circumstance more than anything else if he were to lose his job after this season. New York had a rocky 2020 campaign, finishing 6-10 and struggling to figure out its direction offensively. The Giants are in for a much better season in 2021. Saquon Barkley should be healthy at some point early in the year. Dave Gettleman invested draft capital at wide receiver and edge rusher, two positions of need. However, if Daniel Jones struggles and New York suffers through another 6-10 season, Gettleman will almost definitely be gone and the Giants will be looking to find a new franchise quarterback. If there is already that much turnover, Judge could be gone as well.
Philadelphia Eagles – Nick Sirianni Heat Index: 🔥🔥 It is incredibly rare that coaches are fired after just one season. However, it has also happened twice in the past three years. Steve Wilks only got a single season in Arizona and was fired after 2018. Cleveland canned Freddie Kitchen after a disappointing 2019 campaign. It’s not out of the question for the 2021 season either. I already touched on Meyer. Nick Sirianni is not facing as much pressure as his Jacksonville counterpart, but Philadelphia has never been known for being patient. Sirianni inherits a team with more questions than answers at a number of key positions, namely quarterback. If Jalen Hurts flames out and Sirianni shows no signs of building a positive culture, I could see a scenario where ownership decides to clean house.
Dallas Cowboys– Mike McCarthy Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥 Speaking of coaches lasting one year with a team, there was some buzz that Mike McCarthy could be done after a single season in Dallas. Even before Dak Prescott went down for the season, the Cowboys looked outmatched. It got much worse after that. McCarthy did enough to somehow earn a second year, but now the pressure is on. Dallas needs to win the NFC East for McCarthy to keep his job. It is an incredibly weak division and the Cowboys have the most talented roster, at least on paper. McCarthy might even need to win a playoff game to truly secure his place in 2022.
Washington Football Team – Ron Rivera Heat Index: 🔥🔥 Ron Rivera seems to have endeared himself well to the fans and to the locker room in D.C. After scraping together a playoff appearance despite a losing record, Washington still has not addressed the quarterback position long term. If it takes a step back in 2021, I don’t think that will be enough to force Rivera out. It would take a truly terrible season to see him lose his job. However, there will be those who feel like Washington’s defense gives them a good chance to repeat as division champions. Expectations lead to increased pressure. Given what we’ve seen in recent years, nothing is out of the question.
Atlanta Falcons – Arthur Smith Heat Index: 🔥 After impressing as the offensive coordinator in Tennessee, Arthur Smith has earned the chance to lead a team of his own. The Falcons are coming off a tough season full of late-game collapses and bad injury luck. Atlanta is caught in limbo as well. They have some veteran players that would make you believe they want to contend, mainly Matt Ryan. The front office gave Ryan a vote of confidence, or realized they could not afford to move him, when it passed on Justin Fields in the 2021 draft. Instead, they grabbed an elite pass-catcher in Kyle Pitts for Ryan to work with. That feels like a move towards contending in the short term. Then, the Falcons traded Julio Jones to Smith’s former team. Like I said, the team is in limbo. I think that bodes well for Smith’s job security while Atlanta attempts to figure out its direction moving forward.
New Orleans Saints – Sean Payton Heat Index: 🔥🔥 It is the end of an era in the Bayou. Drew Brees’ retirement leaves the Saints with uncertainty at quarterback for the first time in a decade and a half. New Orleans is also in salary cap hell after loading up to contend in the future Hall of Famers’ final few years. Now, the Saints seem set for a step backward. Where does that leave Sean Payton? He has shown he can win games without Brees in recent years with Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill stepping in to lead the team when Brees went down with injury. I think the pressure is likely off for Payton in 2021. It is a year for the Saints to retool their roster and identify their new franchise quarterback. If New Orleans tanks, Payton’s seat could get warmer, but I expect him to be back in 2022.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Bruce Arians Heat Index: 🔥 The only way Bruce Arians is not the coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2022 is if he decides to retire after the season. Fresh off a Super Bowl victory, the Buccaneers brought back essentially their entire roster to make a run at a repeat. Even if Tampa suffers from a major Super Bowl hangover and misses the postseason, it would be a rash move to fire Arians. He has the trust of Tom Brady, which goes a really long way in securing his position on one of the best teams in the league.
Carolina Panthers – Matt Rhule Heat Index: 🔥 2020 was a rebuilding year for the Panthers. Carolina rebuilt its defense in the 2020 NFL draft, gave Teddy Bridgewater a try at quarterback and lost their best player for most of the season due to injury as Christian McCaffrey played in just three games. Honestly, going 5-11 was a decent feat given how young Carolina’s starters were on both sides of the ball. Matt Rhule has earned the title of one of the best teachers in the game. His coaching skills were showcased during the Senior Bowl this past January. Given that the Panthers made a move to acquire Sam Darnold, I think the expectations will be slightly higher, but I still don’t think Rhule has anything to worry about heading into 2021.
Detroit Lions – Dan Campbell Heat Index: 🔥 If Detroit goes 1-16 in 2021, that might just be mission accomplished for the Lions. Avoiding a winless season and setting the team up to find its quarterback of the future would be a solid start to what will likely be a long rebuild. Dan Campbell likely won’t let any of that happen. He is competitive as hell and I think we could see the Lions win a game or two that they probably shouldn’t simply by putting in a ton of effort. Campbell is going to have his team motivated to play every week. Unless his tough as nails persona rubs players the wrong way in the locker room, I think Campbell will be given a few more years to rebuild this team.
Chicago Bears – Matt Nagy Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥🔥 Drafting Justin Fields likely takes a little bit of heat off Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace. However, I don’t think it changes a tremendous amount for how this duo needs to approach the 2021 season. It needs to be clear at the end of the year that Fields is on track to be a franchise quarterback and that Nagy is the right person to help him reach his potential. Nagy was lucky to keep his job following a 2020 season where Chicago’s offense was nothing short of anemic. The combination of Nick Foles and Mitchell Trubisky was tough to watch. David Montgomery having a breakout season made up for some of those deficits, but the Bears need to show major progress offensive. It does not mean they will suddenly become the Chiefs or the Buccaneers, but fewer turnovers and sharper play will go a long way.
Green Bay Packers– Matt LaFleur Heat Index: 🔥🔥 Much of how Matt LaFleur will be judged stems from what happens with Aaron Rodgers. Will management blame him for the fractured relationship with the 2020 MVP? Unlikely, seeing as Rodgers’ issues seem to stem more from how the front office operates. There are two ways to spin LaFleur’s tenure in Green Bay. The Packers have reached back-to-back NFC Championship games and dominated the NFC North. For reference, Seattle was the last NFC team to reach back-to-back conference title games in 2012 and 2013. However, unlike the Seahawks, the Packers have been unable to get over the hump. Could another year where the team comes up short in the postseason raise enough questions about LaFleur’s ability to win the biggest games of the year to cost him his job? That seems bold, but don’t rule it out.
Minnesota Vikings – Mike Zimmer Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥 Mike Zimmer said after the 2020 season that Minnesota’s defense was the worst he ever coached. Enter Patrick Peterson, Mackensie Alexander, Bashaud Breeland, Dalvin Tomlinson, Chazz Surratt and Patrick Jones II. Now, it falls on Zimmer to get the most out of this new talent. Kirk Cousins is locked in through 2022, but another lackluster season from the Vikings could get the wheels turning on a rebuild. Especially if Aaron Rodgers does not play this season, this is Minnesota’s division to lose. Failing to do so would be a major letdown that would likely cost Zimmer his job.
Seattle Seahawks – Pete Carroll Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥 An underperforming defense, inconsistent play and a disgruntled star quarterback are a recipe for losing your job as a head coach in the NFL. Pete Carroll has the Seahawks in the mix as a playoff regular, but they have not made it past the division round since their 2014 Super Bowl loss. With Russell Wilson complaining this offseason about his offensive line, it certainly will turn up the scrutiny on Seattle’s performance this season. Another early playoff exit highlighted by a team that can’t quite put it all together could spell the end of Carroll’s tenure.
Arizona Cardinals – Kliff Kingsbury Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥 Entering his third year in charge of the Cardinals, Kliff Kingsbury needs to start producing some results. Arizona came close to reaching the playoffs in 2020, losing the tiebreaker to Chicago for the final spot. However, after starting 5-2, the Cardinals limped to a 3-6 finish. I mean limped literally as well because the team started to struggle right around the time Kyler Murray suffered an ankle injury. Murray still has three years left on his rookie deal, which gives Arizona a fairly lengthy Super Bowl window, but this year feels like an important one to show some progress after signing veterans like J.J. Watt, Malcolm Butler and James Conner to an already talented roster.
Los Angeles Rams – Sean McVay Heat Index: 🔥🔥 While Cam Akers certainly strikes a blow to Los Angeles’ title hopes, it should not drastically change the team’s expectations for 2021. After making the bold move to acquire Matthew Stafford, the Rams are positioning themselves as championship contenders. Taking all of that into account, I still think Sean McVay is entrenched in the organization that he can weather an underwhelming season. Long praised as one of the great offensive minds in the sport, McVay has proven himself to be valuable to this franchise. After all, the team is only three years removed from a Super Bowl appearance. Not to mention, the Rams upset the Seahawks in Seattle with an injured Jared Goff at quarterback. I think McVay is likely safe, but expectations are high for this Rams team heading into 2021.
San Francisco 49ers – Kyle Shanahan Heat Index: 🔥 After slogging through a ridiculous season of injuries, the 49ers seem poised to bounce back in a big way in 2021. However, the team is also facing a changing of the guard at quarterback after selecting Trey Lance with the No. 3 pick in April. I think that actually increases the likelihood Kyle Shanahan keeps his job. He is praised as an offensive guru who has developed several quarterbacks in his coaching career. On top of that, he and general manager John Lynch signed six-year extensions following a Super Bowl appearance. Shanahan will be around for a while in San Francisco.